Special Report

The States Where It’s Best (and Worst) to Be a Teacher

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10. Texas
> Average teacher pay: $58,948 (23rd lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 27 to 1 (24th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 59.0% (7th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 89.7% (4th highest)

The best states to be a teacher do not necessarily report the best outcomes for students — the picture is often mixed. Texas is one such example. Though just 26.5% of fourth graders score proficient level on the standardized test NAEP — nearly the lowest share, the state’s high school graduation rate of 89.7% is fourth highest of all states.

Nearly 60.0% of new teachers in Texas are expected to remain in the teaching profession long enough to retire and qualify for pension benefits, one of the highest such percentages in the nation and a major factor in the state’s top 10 ranking. Additionally, the National Council on Teacher Quality identified secondary teacher preparation as among Texas’s major strengths. For example, state policies promote teacher quality by requiring middle school teachers to pass a rigorous single-subject content test.

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9. Tennessee
> Average teacher pay: $58,618 (21st lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 28 to 1 (20th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 56.0% (12th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 89.8% (3rd highest)

Tennessee is the only state the National Council on Teacher Quality has given an A- grade for its policies on general teacher preparation, the best of all states. The report identifies the state’s programs to increase diversity among its teachers and to meet performance standards as Tennessee’s strengths.

More than half of new teachers (56.0%) are expected to remain teachers long enough to qualify for retirement benefits in Tennessee, the 12th highest share in the country.

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8. Illinois
> Average teacher pay: $66,561 (11th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 28 to 1 (18th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 50.0% (19th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 87.0% (18th highest)

Compared to the average pay of teachers nationwide of $63,000 a year, educators in Illinois are fairly well compensated. The average annual pay in the state, adjusted to the cost of living, is $66,560, the 11th highest in the country.

In addition to relatively good pay, retirement benefits are also relatively high. The median annual retirement benefit for newly retired teachers in Illinois is more than $55,000, the highest of all states. The high benefit amount may explain the state’s relatively high percentage of teachers expected to stay in the profession long enough to qualify for a pension, which at 50.0% is higher than most states.

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7. Louisiana
> Average teacher pay: $55,177 (12th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 26 to 1 (22nd lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 54.0% (16th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 78.1% (4th lowest)

In its annual evaluation of state education policy goals, The National Council on Teacher Quality awarded Louisiana an A for teacher compensation, contributing to an overall grade of B+, one of the better grades in the nation. Louisiana’s beneficial policies include rewards for effective teachers, options for teachers to earn higher pay for working in high-need schools, and incentives for districts to compensate new teachers who demonstrate prior work experience.

Despite these favorable policies, Louisiana’s public school teachers are paid exceptionally low salaries compared to other states on this list. The state’s cost of living adjusted average teacher pay is $55,177, the 12th lowest in the nation.

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6. Virginia
> Average teacher pay: $66,314 (12th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 25 to 1 (19th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 50.0% (19th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 86.9% (19th highest)

Virginia is the only state the National Council on Teacher Quality has given an A- grade for its policies on elementary teacher preparation, the best of all states. The report identifies the state’s programs to connect graduates’ growth data to their teacher preparation programs and requiring that all teacher evaluations include observations and possibly students survey data as Virginia’s strengths.

Teachers in Virginia are paid relatively well compared to the U.S. annual average teachers’ pay of about $63,000. Educators earn over $66,000 a year, the 12th highest adjusted to cost of living average pay in the country.

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